By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson
Anticipation, optimism, a militant spirit, the courage of one’s convictions. Excitement and energy to continue the Battle of Ideas, to resist and confront the financial oligarchy, the imperialists, neo-liberalism, for democracy, to march on towards the better world that is possible, necessary and urgent.
This was the atmosphere of the important gathering attended by influential personalities, political leaders and parties, experienced fighters and youth new to the struggle, activists from different social movements and social organizations at the Encuentro anti-Imperialista por la Democracia y Contra neo-liberalismo over three days beginning Friday 1 November and culminating Sunday 3 November 2019.
Well organised, in the spacious and modern facilities of the Palacio de las Convenciones, in Miramar, Cuba, with exceptional hospitality offered by hosts the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) to the almost 1500 delegates arriving from 95 countries who participated in the conference, entertained by cultural troupes, developed contacts, established friendships and partnerships and consolidated solidarity ties.
Convoked and organized by ICAP and the Central Organization of Cuban Trade Unions (CTC), along with the Cuban Chapter of Social Movements and the Continental Conference for Democracy and against Neo-Liberalism under the slogan “Hands Off Cuba” to enable social and political movements to express their solidarity with the Cuban people and their repudiation of the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States since 1961, as well as the escalation of hostilities from the Donald Trump administration towards the island.
According to a communiqué released by ICAP, the purpose of the gathering was “to be a real contribution to confronting the current counterrevolutionary offensive of U.S. imperialism, to the search for the widest possible unity of progressive forces in the region and to strengthening militant solidarity with the just causes defended by the peoples. In the current political situation, marked by the aggressiveness of the Trump administration, new ways will be sought to reinforce solidarity with these causes in the world, mainly in our region.”
Day One started with a panel in which prominent intellectuals and activists shared their views on the current developments in Latin American and world politics and the role in it of social and workers’ movements as well as the challenges facing the left. Interventions followed from the floor in which people from all regions of Latin America, the Caribbean, the United States, Quebec and the world spoke.
In the evening, delegates were invited by the Committees in Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) from the district of Barbosa, on the outskirts of Havana, to join them in an Anti-imperialist Tribune. As the buses carrying the delegates arrived in Barbosa, Cuban flags and slogans were hanging from buildings, windows, balconies and along the sidewalks. Hundreds of residents were out in the streets, creating a festive atmosphere, welcoming the delegations and taking contingents to the different CDRs. There is one CDR per block and, at each, neighbours explained to the visitors what CDRs do, how they work and are organized. Children from the community recited poems and gave presents and drawings to those visiting their CDR.
During the second day of debate, a main panel in the morning included participation by Ismael Drullet, from the Cuban Chapter of Social Movements, who stressed the importance of unity and solidarity to face imperialism and capitalism. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, expressed the support of all those present for the Venezuelan people and the role of the Caribbean countries in anti-imperialist solidarity. Manuel Bertoldi, from Argentina, highlighted the importance of the uprisings taking place across Latin America. Félix César Navarro Miranda, Bolivia’s Minister of Mining and Metallurgy spoke in addition to a representative of the People’s Republic of China, who highlighted the importance of the relations between China and Cuba and said that his country will “continue to support, as always, the just cause of this Caribbean Island, its sovereignty and socialism according to its national conditions.”
In the afternoon the work was divided among different commissions:
Commission 1: Solidarity with Cuba and other just causes;
Commission 2: Peoples in the face of free trade and the transnationals;
Commission 3: Decolonization and cultural war. Strategic communications and social struggle;
Commission 4: Youth: strategies and continuity in struggles;
Commission 5: Democracy, sovereignty and anti-imperialism; and
Commission 6: Integration, identities and common struggles.
The reports of the Commissions were later presented to the plenary session.
Discussions in the Commissions were informative and raised the many challenges facing the peoples. For instance, participants from Puerto Rico shared the situation of their country, the oldest country still under colonial domination. María Lourdes Santiago, vice-president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, in the Decolonization Commission, explained in detail the many problems Puerto Rico faces every day, economically and culturally, but she also strongly stressed that “after 121 years of domination, we still speak Spanish” and that after Hurricane Maria, which devastated the country and in which many lives were lost, the Puerto Rican flag, their own flag, waved in every corner.
“Puerto Rico is the great debt Latin America still has with colonialism,” she said.
Solidarity with the cause of the Venezuelan people, demand for the return to Argentina of the Malvinas occupied by Britain, and independence for Guadaloupe, occupied by France, as well as solidarity with the struggles of the Chilean, Bolivian, Honduran, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Sahrawi and Palestinian peoples were also expressed on numerous occasions throughout the event.
One of the highlights of the Anti-Imperialist Forum was the announcement that more than two million signatures had been gathered in Cuba in 14 days demanding the freedom of former Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, imprisoned arbitrarily and unjustly by the current neo-liberal president through the manipulation and corruption of legal proceedings. Signatures were also gathered in the lobby area outside the Convention Centre.
Chants of “Lula Livre!” accompanied the proceedings from start to finish.
Great enthusiasm was also expressed for Cuban solidarity actions with the world, such as sending doctors to every corner where they are needed, to those who do not have any other access to medical care. There was a standing ovation for these doctors, some of whom were present at the conference, either invited to participate especially or as delegates from their own countries. This was a special moment in light of the U.S. inspired misinformation campaigns against them and their missions.
Day three started with reports from the Commissions, the presentation of the text of the final declaration and interventions from many delegates and the adoption of the declaration. In the afternoon, the concluding session of the Anti-Imperialist Solidarity Conference, for Democracy and Against Neo-Liberalism began with the resounding applause and standing ovations that greeted the arrival of Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba; Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez; President Nicolás Maduro of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; José Ramón Machado Ventura, Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba; and Esteban Lazo, President of the National Assembly of People’s Power and the Council of State.
A Declaration of Solidarity with Cuba was read by Gail Walker, Executive Director of the U.S.-based Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)-Pastors for Peace, and daughter of reverend Lucius Walker, who in 1992 started the caravans of Pastors for Peace to Cuba.
“We support the construction of a prosperous Cuba, based on José Martí’s principle of who rises today with Cuba, rises for all times,” read the declaration, which also demanded the end of the blockade against Cuba and repudiated the implementation of the Helms-Burton Act.
President Maduro’s speech expressed the defiance of the Venezuelan people to the hostile actions of the United States and was met with prolonged applause and a standing ovation.
President of the Republic of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez’ concluding speech began with, “A special greeting to all who resist and have come to the Cuban capital, which has always been, and will be, a meeting point for those who defend peace and solidarity among peoples.”
“The new generation of Cuban leaders, trained and educated by the historical generation of Fidel and Raúl, are revolutionaries, socialists, faithful to Fidel and Martí,” he said to prolonged applause. “[W]e will not yield a millimetre in our positions in favour of independence, sovereignty and social justice. And as a link with the peoples who struggle and resist, we will always uphold solidarity as a fundamental principle, to which we owe so much,” he added.
This Encuentro Antiimperialista de Solidaridad por la Democracia y contra el Neoliberalismo symbolised the other authentic America. Of the indigenous peoples, the enslaved Africans and their descendants, their heirs and successors. Of the Haitian, Cuban and Grenadian revolutions, of the progressive movements, the anti-colonial movements, the struggle for independence, sovereignty, of beautiful music and art, of the Beautiful Game. That America.
The real America, not the America of slavery, the Monroe Doctrine and amendments, of the imperialists, which is the source of death, coups d’etats, invasions, military bases, ecological and environmental destruction. A warm embrace for Cuba from the other America.
The English speaking Caribbean was well represented with delegates from Barbados, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, including leading members of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union [OWTU], TT Postal Workers, Banking and General Workers Union and Communications Workers Union [CWU].
CWU member John Julien said:
“Cuba Solidarity is the centre point of all struggle within the region. The Conference or as I put it, a meeting of conscious minded people with a single unifying voice and ideas. Our strong delegation of Caribbean people is a testament to that. The Invitation to Caribbean leaders and the head table presence of Ralph Gonzales [PM Saint Vincent and the Grenadines] says a lot about the Caribbean to Cuba. The “vibes” can only be felt by the presence in Cuba! You must visit Cuba to know Cuba. Cuba is Cuba. Yo Soy Cuba. Congratulations to ICAP, CTC and the Government of Cuba for a hugely successful Conference.”